David R. Henderson  

Dan Hamermesh: Let's Regulate Labor Markets Even More

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Daniel Hamermesh has presented data showing that, all else equal, ugly people do worse economically and are less happy than the non-ugly. The Daily Show sent one of its crack interviewers to interview him. The result--this 5-minute video--is highly entertaining. More than that, though, it's informative: it shows the--dare I say--ugly underside of some of those who advocate special privileges for various groups in the labor market.

It's clearly a hatchet job on Hamermesh, and one way the Daily Show does hatchet jobs, as Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute claims happened with him, is to edit things out to make things appear as they aren't. So it's entirely conceivable that that's what happened with Hamermesh.

Still, unless the Daily Show literally dubs in words in Hamermesh's voice, he does advocate a huge amount new regulation of labor markets.

1:30: The interviewer on Google.
1:57: The serious part. While Hamermesh uses a lot of "mights" and "coulds," he seems to favor laws against discriminating against ugly people in the labor market. Those laws, of course, often become not just regulations against discrimination but regulations making discrimination in favor of a particular group a safe harbor for an employer.
2:30: Also serious. It's interesting to see the various interest groups that get special privileges in the labor market argue against special privileges for the ugly. The Daily Show is performing a huge service here by showing these various people's raw support of privilege. My discriminated-against group matters; your's doesn't.
3:57: Watch Hamermesh's harshness in judging beauty on his campus.

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Mark V Anderson writes:

Despite the fact that this sees the light of day on The Daily Show, and I think I see the mirth in your posting too, this is a serious subject. But I come at this from pretty much the same position as you do. Not that the ugly need protections, but that those that already receive protection are not as unique as they think they are.

When someone tells me that I cannot understand what it is like to be treated poorly because of the color of my skin because I am White, I tell them that is poppycock. There are all sorts of reasons why people are treated poorly for stupid reasons. Possible reasons are ugliness, short, fat, facial tic, speech impediment, skin condition, etc. Pretty much all of us have been treated as dumb or dangerous because of some trait that in reality has nothing to do with intelligence or violence.

So I think Hammermesh is providing a great service to show how ugly folks are treated badly (I suspect their income is worse on average than Blacks). I hope he follows up with similar statistics on various other impediments. I don't agree with Hammermesh that the ugly should be treated as a protected class, but I do think that further research will show how silly it is to give special benefits to certain groups based on their treatment on an average basis. Can you imagine how badly our schools would be doing under No Child Left Behind if every group that that could be shown as statistically weaker had to catch up for the school to succeed? We need more studies like Hammermesh is doing to show that the whole concept of breaking out groups to promote is the height of silliness.

Ted Levy writes:

This is hilarious. One can imagine the HR conversation:

HR representative: We at ABC Company just want to assure you that your special needs and requirements will be met.

Ugly Employee: My special needs?

HR: Well, I mean the fact you're...pretty deficient.

UE: Pretty deficient? I got fairly good write ups last evaluation!

HR: NO! I don't mean you're pretty much deficient. I mean your deficiency in prettiness.

UE: Are you saying I'm ugly?

HR: NO! I'm working very hard NOT to say that.

UE: I don't think there's any evidence I'm ugly!

HR: THen how do you explain the lack of advancement in the company?

UE: Well, I was kinda hoping it was just 'cause I'm not a very good worker...

Silas Barta writes:

I'm ecstatic that the Daily Show was taking this on. I despise the stupidity and malice that goes into advocacy of these anti-discrimination laws, which always manage to find an excuse not to take the general principle seriously. Why not ban discrimination against those without a fat social network, or with poor social skills, or who are neuroatypical, etc.?

Whatever rationalization you use to throw them to the free market, can probably be applied to your own preferred protected class.

And when all is said an done, the discrimination still goes on, employment becomes a minefield, job listings go scarce, and the powerless still struggle to get jobs. Good work, guys.

Mark writes:

I've posted an old 1991 Dilbert comic strip that ridicules just this type of thinking.

And by the way, what do you have to admit to sue for being passed over for promotions?

Silas Barta writes:

Slightly OT, but Hamermesh appears to be a bad economist in general. Here's my criticism of him from two years ago about his poor application of game theory.

I got to the Freakonomics blog where he posts, and looking at his recent history, I see him misidentify a Pareto improvement (and his readers all call him on it), and later criticize the AARP's inflation estimate because people can paper over the increases in their cost of living by substituting to worse stuff.

I feel sad to know that people like him keep well-paid jobs to promote these errors.

(Please let this post through despite the 3 links.)

mark writes:

You laugh, but there is actually a Stanford Law professor, Deborah L Rhode, who wrote a 68 page article in their law review (2009) called "The Injustice of Appearance" that puts forth these arguments in completely serious fashion and calls for both new laws and expansion of existing anti-dsicrimination laws to remedy "the injustice of appearance". Laws!

M.R. Orlowski writes:

This doesn't any different than from something Ronald Dworkin might advocate.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Silas Barta,
On your second comment.
I agree with your first two criticisms. I disagree with your third one. It’s not the case that people necessarily substitute into worse stuff. They might actually substitute into better stuff whose price is higher than what they’re substituting from but whose price has risen less than the price of the good from which they’re substituting.
See this post I wrote on it.

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